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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - Zoom Living

The World’s New Frenemy: Zoom
• Grace Samuelson
Zoom Life will be the new normal?


Just picture it: you wake up at 10:50 and your class starts at 11:00. Panic sets in. But, just as you’re about to spring out of bed you remember: it’s a Zoom class. The tense feeling in your shoulders evaporates as your eyelids begin to shut again—the same feeling you get when you wake up and realize it’s Saturday. You reset your alarm for 10:58, giving yourself an adequate two minutes to sit up, muss your hair and tune into your online class at 11:00.

A month or two ago, if you would have told me pretty soon every class, meeting, and conversation was going to be over video call, I would’ve thought you were talking about an episode of the dystopian show Black Mirror. Sometimes a global pandemic strikes, and we have no choice but to pretend that a laptop screen is a good enough replacement to seeing your smiling grandpa or grabbing an macchiato with an old friend. 

Don’t get me wrong. In light of the severity of the Covid-19 situation, I’m grateful to have a way to keep in touch with my family and friends. This unique situation is bringing people closer than we’ve ever been. On some level it’s true. Personally, I’ve been reaching out to old bosses, forgotten friends, and professors whom I haven’t talked to in years because, well, I’m just bored. Plus, this is probably one of the only times the world is truly united — experiencing the same helplessness and desire for normality.

These things are all good. However, I don’t believe technology can replace the value that comes with physical human interaction.

The other day I was on a call where someone suggested that in place of a senior social, we do a Zoom call. Someone chimed in, “Wait! That’s a great idea. When you think about it, it will be accessible to even more people than those who would have been able to travel to Charleston, S.C.” Sadly more people being able to attend doesn’t mean a virtual reception has the same value as meeting someone in person and discussing events over a decent glass of wine.

Only one person at a time can talk on a video call. When there are over 30 people on a call, good luck getting a word in. Especially if you get anxiety thinking about how you might have to fight for “speaker view” on Zoom. Only one dominant voice is allowed, the rest are silent listeners. In a room with real people (a concept), people break off into their own conversations. Suddenly, the room is echoing with murmurs and laughs. Real connections are formed, people getting one-on-one time together.

And digital graduation? As a member of the class of 2020, I can say with complete confidence that a digital handing off of the diploma cannot replace both the anxiousness and pride you feel while promenading across the stage, partially focusing on not tripping, trying to catch your loved one’s eye. That sense of joy and accomplishment you feel in person cannot be matched through a virtual experience. 

Don’t even get me started on how travel magazines have decided the best way to spend quarantine is to “armchair travel” through the comfort of your couch by looking at Machu Picchu or the Louvre on a computer. With that logic, then I’ve visited nearly every city in the world! The only way to travel, is to hop on a plane and go experience the snap of the wind in Santorini or the gentle humidity of Paris in the rain.

Suddenly, every ritual, and accomplishment, and interview, and conversation is controlled, set into a frame focused by a camera onto the dead-face of a computer screen. Instead of postponing, we are replacing.

So what’s going to happen once we start to regain a sense of normality? Are we about to change the way society functions differently because we have realized how far technology can take us? I’ve heard it’s likely that working remotely will become the norm and travel for business will be superfluous.

Sure, the occasional video chat and remote workday are okay.  I miss going to the coffee shop, seeing friends, doing things. Do we really want to be a society living through a screen?

It’ll be compelling—and scary—to see where the world goes in the looming months of recovery ahead of us. It’s fine to be thankful for video chat, for the time being. But once the chaos is over: as the song says - let it go.

© Grace Samuelson May 2020
Advanced Composition Student at College of Charleston

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